Study says some premature babies have increased survival rates - WSMV News 4

Study says some premature babies have increased survival rates

Posted: Updated: Nov 19, 2015 04:45 PM

A small number of very premature babies are surviving earlier outside the womb than doctors ever thought possible.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine of thousands of premature births found that a tiny minority of babies born at 22 weeks who were medically treated survived with few health problems.

In many hospitals across the country, babies born under 23 weeks are not resuscitated. A Midstate family said their son is living proof that needs to change.

Riding horses is one of 5-year-old James Epps’ favorite activities. His parents love the emotional and physical confidence it gives him.

“When he’s on a horse, he’s calm,” said Andy Epps, James’ father.

James struggled to survive before he was even born. He weighed just 15 ounces at birth.

“We saw him go through distress. We saw them resuscitate him,” Andy Epps said. “Every dip and peak in the roller coaster ride.”

But James wouldn’t have had that chance if it weren’t for what his parents called a fortunate mistake. The Texas hospital where James was born would not attempt life-saving measures prior to 23 weeks gestation.

James was 22 weeks and six days.

“When she admitted me, she made an error by one day of his gestation,” said Alison Epps, James’ mother.

The Epps said if the hospital had known the truth, they would have wrapped up James, given him comfort care and allowed the couple to hold him for as long as he held on.

“We didn’t realize that, how important that day was,” Alison Epps said. “It ultimately saved his life.”

The new study looked at survival rates and hospital cut-off policies, which vary across the country from 22 to 25 weeks.

“It’s a very important area,” said Dr. Bill Walsh with Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital.

Walsh said Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital doesn’t have a cut-off, but the data is indisputable: babies can’t survive under 22 weeks for one key reason.

“The lung doesn’t exist under 22 weeks,” Walsh said.

The recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine prompted Walsh to rewrite Vanderbilt’s policy. It now reads:

Counsel pregnant women if possible before the delivery of an infant at 22-24 weeks’ gestational. At 22 weeks gestation, resuscitation will be offered only after lengthy discussion on the poor prognosis with the family.

“I think the families need to know they have a say,” Walsh said. “The outcomes are not good at 22 and 23 weeks gestation.”

Walsh said his concern is that parents may feel guilty from possibly choosing to protect their premature child from a painful death or lifelong handicap.

“They go through the nightmare of watching a baby suffer,” Walsh said.

Alison and Andy Epps said they can’t imagine life without their son, who suffers from asthma and limited lung capacity.

“He lights up every part of our lives now,” Alison Epps said. “He’s just pure joy.”

They want to see all hospital policies changes, especially since they said predicting gestational age is not an exact science.

“I know they can’t try to save every single baby, but I wish they could look at the baby when it is born and see if they have a potential for life,” Alison Epps said. “And then decide, yeah, we can give them a chance.”

According to the New England Journal of Medicine study, while a small minority of children born at 22 weeks survived with few health problems, the vast majority died or suffered serious health problems.

To read the full study, click here.

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